Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking Australian: Footie is the game

The most Australian of games is Australian Rules Football (AFL) and not only does it have a large following but of course it has its own culture and language. Much of the parlance is now in everyday use but to an outsider the origins of some key terms do need further explanation. The game is often referred to by its critics (followers of the leather patched rugby codes) as aerial ping-pong because the ball often moves back and forth between two halves of the ground. The term came from the 60s but now AFL is a much faster paced running game with increased use of hand passing so aerial-ping pong is now obsolete although it does remain in common parlance. Another jocular reference to AFL is cross country basketball.

In other football codes players wear jerseys but Aussie rules players wear guernseys. The islands of Jersey and Guernsey make up the Channel Islands in the English Channel. The Guernsey (or gansey) sweater became popular with fishermen and dates back to the sixteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne of England. Guernsey fishermen were found all over and develop fisheries off the coast of Labrador, Canada. To keep their men warm the women of the islands developed the Guernsey Sweater which eventually became part of Royal Naval uniform. The original sweaters were tightly knitted in patterns that gave insulation, as well as water and wind resistance. This made them ideal for heavy weather as well as survival garments for those who were washed overboard. The first use of the name 'guernsey' outside of the island is in the 1851 Oxford Dictionary and the working woollen jumpers were used by the diggers during the gold rushes in the mid nineteenth century. When footie was established in 1859 players wore a sleeveless woolen jumper knitted in the Guernsey style. From the football meaning arose the phrase ‘to get a guernsey’ or be ‘given a guernsey’, meaning to win selection for a sporting team. In its widest sense the phrase now means 'to win selection, recognition, approbation', and is commonly used in non-sporting contexts.

Once sides were established and leagues formed fans began to follow their teams and to support or encourage their side they would shout and cheer this became known as barracking. In Northern Ireland the term barrack means to brag but in English it means to jeer. So you can see the dilemma many POHMs have when they come to the big brown land and are asked who you barrack for. The term was first recorded in 1890.

Originally footy was a game contrived to keep cricket players fit during the off season. It is also thought to have been based on the traditional indigenous game of Marn Grook (i.e. catching a kicked ball; and high jumping which are both features of Australian Football). The original cricketers at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground were British soldiers based in the nearby Victoria Barracks and teams from the barracks would compete against each other. Their supports were known as ‘barrackers.’

As a barracker of the modern game you need be aware of some game terms like maggot or man (or ball). Maggot which is slang for umpire (or ump). Originally they were called white maggots because of their white uniforms they wore but now the umpires wear coloured uniforms. ‘Man,’ which is short for ‘holding the man’ is called when supporters to plead for the umpire to award a free kick for holding the man, often when they fear he might be holding the ball. The two are often screamed simultaneously by opposing fans. When barrackers chant ‘Chewy on your boot’ this describes a call by opposition supporters or players to a player usually when he is taking a set shot for goal. It is designed to upset his concentration when kicking. If an opposition player were to do this in soccer it would constitute a foul and be considered very ungentlemanly conduct.

Calling the game also requires high linguistic ability and is always a worthwhile listening experience especially with game commentators like former commentator Rex Hunt (ex Richmond and Geelong player). Rex is a master of Australian colloquialisms and was in the habit of making up quirky nicknames for players. My favourite Huntisms were ‘belt the living suitcase out of’ which refers to either players involved in a melee on the field, or a team being thrashed. When Rex refered to ‘a hospital pass‘ he was describing a player who passed to another who was in imminent danger of getting tackled. The hope is it would not be a ‘coathanger’ tackle (high on the neck).

During the breaks at a game as a barracker you might get a snag or sanger. The English use of snag means an expected drawback but here in Oz it of course refers to a grilled (or barbecued) sausage. The term first appeared in 1941 and was likely to have originated as a dialect variation of the English word, snack meaning a morsel of light meal. Sanger meaning sandwich started life as ‘sango’ and was used a lot in the 40s, twenty years later it had become sanger. After the game you might like to relax at the local hotel for a few singing syrups.

Elsewhere a hotel means somewhere to stay the night but in Australia it is synonymous with a bar or pub where you can get some tucker. Some hotels will have rooms but not all.

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